Our Country’s Good is a play written by Timberlake Wertenbaker based on the Playmaker by Thomas Keneally. Timberlake was approached to adapt the book into a play and as part of her research she went to see a play at Wormwood Scrubs performed by convicts. The play highlights how the convicts can gain a positive humanising effect through the power of theatre On seeing the convicts perform so seriously Timberlake explains that how “… n prison conditions, theatre can be hugely heartening and influential and indeed in prison your options are so limited you can become a born-again Christian, a gym-queen constantly working out, a bird watcher or you become passionate about theatre. ”
She thought the convicts were quite professional and became very civilised throughout their whole performance, “The convicts knew their lines absolutely because they had nothing else to do and they didn’t want to waste time with pleasantries as soon as you came into the room they started rehearsing.
The two hours were very intense because the time was so valuable and we saw immediately how doing a play could become absolutely absorbing if you were incarcerated. ” To show the civilising effect of the theatre upon the convicts in Our Country’s Good, I intend to explore a few scenes which are the following:- 1. The First Rehearsal 2. The Second Rehaersal 3. Backstage. I feel these three scenes are key within the play to show the progression of the convicts from being ill mannered to more humane human beings but also how the attitude of Ralph Clarke, the second liuetennant changes toward the convicts.
At first he sees them as nothing more than convictst but proportionally to their progression he begins to see them as people with a little bit of worth and potential. In the first rehearsal the first person to speak is Ralph Clarke and he addresses the convicts as “ladies and gentlemen”. I would have the actor playing ralph quite tall (roughly 6″2) to show his position to the convicts and he woullds also have a very straight and upright posture to show he takes his role as director and 2nd lieutennant seriously.
In this secen I would have Ralph already present centre stage left tbut the convicts are not on to begin with. This is to higlight to the audience that he is respectful to time keeping and is prepared to commit to the play now. Also, he would be stage left as I feel the convicts would still see him as a little bit villianous like some of the other officers . They slowly begin to see he is different from the rest but I want the distance between the convicts and Ralph to decrease through the progression of these three scenes.
Him being seen as almost a threat to begin with by the convicts is why I would want the actor to be stage left at the start of the scene. This is more of an association and tradition of pantomime( The “Baddie” always enters and exits stage left as it was recognised by audiences as the right and left hand of God, left being the devil) but hopefully will provoke the audinece into thinking about the evolving relationship between Ralph and the convicts.
Ralph will wait patiently , standing straight with his arms held behind him in status revealing way quite expressionless then the convicts will enter stage right in a hustle an bustle muttering and dragging their feet but stop a few metres before Ralph again to create that little bit of distance between them. The convists would have their arms folded across their chests to put up physical barriers and playing with their hands to suggest their uncertainty.
At the delivery of his first line, Ralph would speak in standard english and in a formal tone as he was doing so he wuld release his hands from behind his back and hold out his hands in front of him in an open gesture as he welcomed the convicts. When he had addressed the convicts as Ladies and Gentlemen, the female convict Dabby Bryant would cut him off in a strong cockney accent and would be quite exciteable, her eyes would be large, her mouth movements exaggerated and her smile wide at being called a lady.
Ralph treats them with more respect than they have probably ever been treated before which shows in earlier scenes such as the cant used by Liz Morden in Visiting Hours and how they talk to eachother throughout the play. They have been kept in poor conditions and spoken to like dogs so are the exact same with eachother. This is shown by Dabby and Duckling later on in the scene when they exchange insults. Dabby is probably jealous of Duckling as she gets to live in a nice warm bed with food because she is courting with one of the lieutennants.
There is different status levels witihn the convicts aswell which creates tension amongst them. As they insult eachother, they would turn and face eachother but would still be stage right and it would be Dabby who had her back turned to Ralph because although they are both unaware of how to properly behave Duckling has had more Experience with the lieutennants because of Harry Brewer. Duckling would be slightly taller than Dabby so would be looking down at her and Dabby woulkd be looking up with her finger thrust in Duckling’s face both would have their eyebrows furrowed and in quite close proximity to eachothers face.
At the close of the scene and after many failed attempt of a successful rehearsal and disruption from the two lietennants Campbell And Ross who take great delight in taunting the convicts and indeed Ralph, the convicts would all be in the positions on stage Ralph had directed them to be in but not holding an appropriate stance or expression all would be lookin toward Ralph expectantly who is now downstage centre. I would the nhave Ralph looks to the floor, sigh and bring his hands up behind his head to show the shambles of the rehearsal.
In the second rehearsal, three of the convicts have beein taken away and put in chains . Ralph, Mary Brenham and Robert Sideway are all presnet on stage waiting for the three convicts to be brought in to rehearse. Ralph, Mary and Robert are situated downstage right with Mary and Robert sat on the floor, cross legged with their hands neatly placed on their lap while their faces would be fixed in front of them.. Ralph would be standing next to them watching the door anxiously. His appearance has become somewhat more ruggid.
His dark hair is ruffled, he is not cleanly shaven and has the first few buttons of his shirt undone, whereas the two convicts on stage have better posture and look more clean and a little more groomed. Ralph is now on the right with the convicts to show they are understanding each other more as people now and the two are meeting in the middle as they are now influenced by eachother. Ralph is becoming relaxed around them and liberated whilst they are taking more pride in themselves. Ralph will now be standing with one arm againts his chest and the other raised with his hand resting on his chin.
His head will be tilted downward slightly parallel to that of Mary and Robert but his eyes would be raised and focused on the door to show he has more of a connection with the convicts than these two lieutennants who enter centre stage left progressing to downstage left pulling Liz, Wisehammerand Ceasar in chains behind them then shoving them roughly over to where Ralph is. The three convicts in chains, in contrast to Mary and Robert, are gaunt, tired looking with bags under their eyes and pale. As they are shoved forward, ralph would release his arms and raise his head t oinsinuate he will not be intimidated by Ross and Campbell.
Later in the scene Ross is very belittling toward Ralph infront of the convicts. He would sneer with his eyes squinted whe ntalking of Ralph being soon to join the convicts. At this moment the convicts would all be quite still looking at the two with slightly open mouths. Ralph however, would not lose his cool and calmly addresses Ross politely enough ” Major, we will rehearse now. “. The convicts would look a little perplexed at this because whenever people have addressed them like that in the play they have instantly retorted in the same way as proven by Dabby and duckling in the first rehearsal.
However after them being quite uncertain of how Ralph could do that, they would look to him wih more respect as they would realise he has gained the conversational status there with major Ross and he would look rather unsettled that he hasn’t managed to provoke Ralph enough. At the end of this scene Ross seems to get bored of his failed attempt ot provoke Ralph and tell Campbell to start the punishment of Arscott knowing that this will provide a great distraction for the rehearsal and knowing it would throw them off their lines.
They would exit upstage left but not before Ross turns to look at Ralph and glare with a sinister smile across his face. The pain filled shouts of arscott would echo around the stage as he is beaten and the convicts attempt to continue their lines but when Liz speaks, the audience would be able to her her voice wobble and break as emotion takes over her. ” When taking the advantage of my innocence and neccessity… ” Whilst saying this line she would be full of truth directly related to her current situation The convicts and Ralph all ook up at her and she drops to her knees, delfated and weak.
There would be a blackout and the only sound would be that of Arscott’s beating and screams. Backstage, the final scene of the play sees the convicts completely different. They are compassionate towards eacheother and serious about performing the play well. They are now refferred to as “the Actors” instead of “The convicts” . They would all be centre stage and instantly begin to change and do their make up wordlessley. Coversation begins and after a few lines Liz would gently pull Duckling aside and places one hand on her sholder and tells her that Dabby could take the part for her as she is grieving over Harry’s death.
Her voice would be soft and soothing with a genuine expression of care upon her face. Duckling would have an upright adament posture and reply in a strong voice that she wishes to continue. Duckling soon gives into her emoitons and would drop her head slightly as she did so. I would not have her cover her face because then the emotion would be shown as a weakness and I believe that now the convicts are strong enough to show their emotions whereas before, especially the women would have felt they had to be seen as quite tough and hold everything in so as not to be seen as weak to the others.
Their gestures would be very purposeful as they are getting ready and preparing to go on stage . They are thouroughly serious now and nervous about their performance. Sideway addresses the group in a slightyl worried tone about how they have not prepared their bow but then his tone changesto encouraging an direct about how it should be done. Near the end of this scene moments before they go on stage Ralph will gather them and give them an encouraging talk . He would talk to them as if they are completely on his level now with a small anticipating smile on his face which becomes wider and bigger with him saying “your on”.
Arscott would slowyl walk downstage centre with his head raised and would take a deep breath before he got into position then begin his first speech. As he finished the lights would slowly dim and beethoven’s Fifthe symphony would bouild up as all the actors would join the actor playing Arscott Downstage centre for their bows. I feel that these three scenes really higlight the civilising effect of the theatre upon the convicts and Ralph Clarke also. They show the developing relationship between the convicts and Ralph but also the growth of the convicts into actors.